Air pollution, greenhouse gases on the rise in Whistler 

Engineering department to present plan to council to improve air quality, lower emissions

The mountain air is not what it used to be.

According to a study of air quality in the Sea to Sky airshed, Whistler is literally choking on its success, as a growing number of cars, trucks and buildings pump more and more pollutants into the air.

Combined with the air that travels up the valley from Squamish and Vancouver, the air quality in Whistler can actually be worse here than in communities to the south.

"About two years ago I got a phone call from the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection saying they wanted to meet with me, senior guys from the ministry," recalled Brian Barnett, the general manager of engineering and public works for the RMOW.

"They showed us a slide show on air quality in the corridor. They were concerned that the data for Whistler was increasing in terms of contaminant levels. They said if it continues to increase, the air quality will be so bad in the valley they would – like they do in the Fraser Valley – have to issue activity warnings.

"I said there was no way that this can happen."

Since that meeting Barnett and municipal employees have been working on an Integrated Energy, Air Quality and Greenhouse Gas Management Plan for the Whistler airshed. Barnett presented that plan at the March 4 AWARE meeting, and will ask council to adopt it at their March 15 meeting.

According to Barnett it is the first management plan of its kind in Canada, which means that they had to start with a blank page.

The plan tackles a number of air pollution sources, from transportation to buildings to greenhouse gases emitted from the landfill.

The most common air contaminants in Whistler are the result of Diesel Particulate Matter, including ash and sulfates, which are responsible for most health problems associated with air pollution. An estimated 70 to 90 per cent of cancers caused by air quality are the result of DPM.

Greenhouse gas emissions are also higher, with levels expected to increase by 44 per cent between 1990 and 2020 if we don’t act – the "business as usual scenario". Whistler and its partners have committed to reducing emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels, which the municipality hopes to achieve by reducing energy consumption, switching to natural gas from propane, and diverting more solid waste from the landfill.

"Municipal buildings and vehicles only consume about three per cent of the energy in the valley, and this report recognizes that to move forward we need a community initiative, and it’s going to take a lot of participation to achieve the results desired in here."

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